My First Korean Farm Experience

In MY ARTICLES, My Farming Experiences by James18 Comments

This past Saturday I stepped onto my first Korean farm, well first farm anywhere actually. Last week my girlfriend and I joined the Korean  WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) chapter who are working with Slow Food to hold bi-monthly events to introduce people to the Slow Food concept. Slow Food is an organization that designs projects, events, and various campaigns to educate and connect sustainable farmers with people who are interested in eating healthy and learning about where healthy food comes from. Slow Food does quite a lot actually, so I can only speak of my experience, but if you want to learn more just check out their website: Slow Food

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A massive Hoop House where we all ate lunch and dinner

In the Beginning
We took an East bound subway out of Seoul to the next province Gyeonggi to our final destination of 남양주 (NamYangJu) which is an area that produces the majority of Korea’s organic food. The travel time from where I’m living (Gangnam) wasn’t too bad – about one hour – that’s if you take the right train. When we arrived there was a group of WWOOFers waiting along with the farmers we’d be working with for the day. Everyone loaded into the back of the farmer’s work truck and they drove us about five minutes down the road to their farm. The farm we would be working on for the day was an organic strawberry and chicken farm. At one point during the day we asked the friendly farmer 병수 (Byeong Soo) “Why chickens and strawberries?”  To which Byeong Soo replied without hesitation: “Because I like them.” Good Answer.

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Farmer Byung-Soo showing us how to collect the eggs


 

 

The Chickens

The first thing we did at Byeong Soo’s farm was visit the chickens and collect the eggs. He showed us the cartons to collect them in, which end to place the egg into the carton – pointed side down – and how to stack them. The chickens were housed in large sectioned open air hoop house shelters that receive plenty of ventilation and sunlight. Each sectioned room within the houses is roughly 3×9 meters with a ratio of 15 hens to 1 rooster. All of the laid eggs on the farm have been fertilized by the roosters – if the laying hen mated with the rooster a week or less prior to laying. When we arrived they had just been fed so most of them were eating their breakfast as we collected the eggs. I had never been this close to chickens before so I was a little apprehensive, but I warmed up to the clucking birds soon enough. We had to shoo a few away from freshly laid eggs, but none of them were aggressive so no chicken attacks occurred. I was particularly proud of my girlfriend who growing up in the city has very little experience with animals especially chickens. Aside from a few unnecessary yields for roaming chickens she did quite well.

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The Chickens

My primary interest at the farm was the chickens as it’s one of the farming enterprises I hope to have on my own farm some day. Korea is a not a land of great space, it’s mostly mountains so I didn’t expect to see the pasture raised chickens I hope to one day raise. However for the available conditions I think the chickens at this farm were raised in a quite healthy and respectful way. There seemed to be plenty of space for the birds in each separate section in each housing unit. There was a roosting box in each section for the birds to lay their eggs in and Byeong Soo covers the ground with a kind of mushroom powder that consists of ground up mushrooms and logs (the logs the mushrooms grew out of). I asked Dan (the apprentice working on the farm) about this and he told me the powder is multipurpose: “It’s great for keeping the ground of the hen house dry and for filling holes. It also keeps the ground soft for the chickens providing them something to scratch at. Though, the main purpose is, over time it gets mixed into the ground with the chicken dung to balance out the nitrogen from the urine and excrement. We also add rice straw and charcoal. After the chickens have passed their prime, we take out all of the compost  that has accumulated over the past 2-3 years and use that for the strawberries.”   Who knew chickens could produce wonderful strawberries? The chicken’s feed is a mix of dried grains including corn, wheat, various seeds, and is fortified with vitamins and minerals. One thing I noticed was that some of the chickens had some bald patches on their backs and around their butts. I asked Dan about this and he told me it can result from a number of things. The main reason is from molting, while some feather loss does occur from when the rooster mates with the hen – I did see a rooster hop on the back of a hen and he wasn’t exactly Barry White-esque about it if you know what I mean. Chickens will also peck at each other from time to time but it’s nothing as serious as what happens in factory chicken houses where they become cannibalized due to the stress which results in the cruel practice of de-beaking. The thing I was happy to see most was feeding the chickens the freshly cut forage. Later in the afternoon Dan and William (a one week intern at the farm) cut a bunch of grass which we fed to the chickens in large piles. I had read how much chickens enjoy grass in Joel Salatin’s books but had never seen it first hand. They absolutely love it. Eating forage does several things for the chickens. First it helps to balance the omega 3 and 6 fat ratios, and the telltale sign is a darker more orange looking yolk.  The other important thing the forage does is provide chlorophyll which acts as a detoxifier – It’s nature’s cleanser.

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Dan Cutting Forage

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Gathering the cut forage

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Chickens eating their Greens

 

 

 

     

 

The Strawberries

I wasn’t as interested in the strawberries as I was the chickens, but once I got into the massive hoop house that covered the berries and tasted a few I quickly warmed up – figuratively and literally. The strawberries on the farm are used to make jam. We spent about an hour picking (and eating) the berries. Later we removed the green tops and washed the berries. The green tops would be fed to the chickens. I have to say picking is hard work. There was not much space to move, and you have to be squatting or on your knees, you can never really get comfortable. And along with uncomfortable kneeling positions the green house really knows how to hold heat on a hot day so quite quickly the sauna effect takes hold. I would definitely like to grow for my family, but I don’t know how many days of strawberry picking I’d have in me on a large scale enterprise. The good thing about this experience was it confirmed my suspicion that I’d be more suited to have livestock as the center pieces for my farm verses vegetables or fruit.

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Inside the strawberry House

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Big Size

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The Harvest

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Washing the Berries

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Slow Food

As I mentioned in the introduction a big part of these outings are to connect people to the healthy food the farmers are producing. Aside from the copious amounts of strawberries that we consumed we were served a lunch and a dinner. For my girlfriend and I the lunch was the highlight meal. It consisted of six or seven different Korean dishes all made fresh on the farm by Byeong Soo’s mother in law. Most of it was various Korean vegetable dishes which were all full of flavor and freshness including the staple fermented cabbage kimichi along with some cold seaweed type of soup. Fresh rice with chestnuts and various egg dishes were also served. For beverages we drank every farmer’s favorite drink – 막걸리 (makoli) which is a Korean rice wine. For dinner we were served 비빔국수 (BiBimGukSu) which is a kind of thin white noodle mixed with kimchi and various seasonings.

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Makkoli

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Awesome Lunch

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More Lunch

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Everyone Gathering for Dinner

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Dinner

 

 

 

 

 

Final Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer

Coming into this experience I was excited because I knew it was a literal first step in the direction I hope to continue indefinitely.  I didn’t know what to expect, but looking back on the experience it turned out to be much more than I could have hoped for. I can’t say I walked away with a ton of new knowledge on technique, but I walked away with something much more valuable – experience. Up to this point I have only been reading. Reading is a great way to learn, but the best way to learn is of course by doing. In many ways this was a monumental day in my journey as a wannabe farmer. It was quite literally my first time on a farm. It was my first time collecting eggs, and touching a chicken – they are not as cuddly as puppies, although the baby ones are adorable. In addition it was not only a big day for me but it was a big day for my girlfriend, Anna. It was her first time on a farm as well. It’s nice to be able to share this journey of firsts together, and I hope we can continue it long into the future.  The other great thing about the day was the people. The WWOOFERs who attended the event along with the farmers and organizers were warm and generous. We weren’t all there for the exact same reasons but everyone had great attitudes and it was a pleasure to spend the day with good people who share the same values when it comes to food and farming. I’m looking forward to writing about the next event next month. Until then. Thanks for reading!

Comments

  1. Who Know

    It’s a Nice and warm article. Last Sat was really special!
    Your post reminded me of the day as a WWOOFER! I’ve been proud of you too. You’re a good student who has a great attitude. Even tho Your steps to be a real farmer are slow and small, You will be shine sooner or later. 🙂 I support you.

    1. Author
      James

      Hey thanks Who Know. I think you’re going to be a great farmer one day too! 😉

  2. Addye Thole

    JAMES !!!!!!!! So awesome!!!!!!! So happy beyond words that you ventured out in to your 1st Farm experience & it was a Korean Farm experience to boot!! I so enjoyed this post so much, with your personal experiences of your time there with Anna & the welcoming WWOOFERS & your details of how your day unfolded & the great pictures you included too!!! I felt as if I was there!!!

    1. Author
      James

      Glad you enjoyed it! It was a lot of fun. You would have loved the strawberries. 🙂

  3. Dad

    Happy that you and Anna had a great day farming and eating. Nothing like experience. Great write-up.

  4. Hyemi

    Hi James. Great article! I really enjoy reading your post and I love seeing my friend in your photo(what she’s wearing is so appropriate!)
    My mom loves chicken (she has 15 of them now) and she’s been always growing Korean crops in this Florida whether all the time. I believe her mastery of growing stuff skill definitely came from Korea.

    and for your black background comment box can be changed by css edit. if you want some help changing your blog template, let me know!

    1. Author
      James

      Thanks for the comment Hyemi! Glad you enjoyed the article. Your mom sounds awesome. I think Florida’s summer must be similar to Korea’s summer – hot and humid. Thanks for offering to help with the black box issue. I tried to fix it this morning but the only way I could get it to change was by changing the theme color from dark to grey, but aside from the comment box, dark looks a lot better… I wonder if there’s another way? Thanks!

      1. Hyemi

        you might want to try find this line from your CSS file (appearance – edit css)
        div.comment-body {margin-bottom: 12px;margin-left: 45px;}

        add this
        div.comment-body {margin-bottom: 12px;margin-left: 45px; background-color:#ffffff;}

        it should make the black reply box to white. if this is not working I can try go into your admin panel and fix it!

        1. Author
          James

          Hyemi! Thanks so much, it worked! I would have never figured that out. Do you by any chance know how to get rid of the remaining black on the left side of my comments? 🙂

  5. Hyemi

    Hey I just checked your reply! good thing it worked LOL

    the other black box can be changed with replacing this
    .commentlist ul li {padding: 0 12px;background: #252525;}
    .commentlist ul ul li {padding: 0 12px;background: #181818;}

    with this!
    .commentlist ul li {padding: 0 12px;background: #ffffff;}
    .commentlist ul ul li {padding: 0 12px;background: #ffffff;}

    hope this works too!

  6. Sarah

    Hello! Not sure if you are still reading your comments?
    I would like to ask, is there a strong smell in the chicken coop? It seems interesting to work in the chicken farm, but i’m not sure if i can take the smell. Haha. As for your working experience here, do you have to get in touch with the chickens? Or do you just have to collect the eggs? Do you have to catch the chicken or something?

    1. Author
      James

      Hi Sarah, sorry for the delayed response. There can be a strong smell in the chicken coop depending on the season and current conditions. And yes, you will need to touch the chickens if one escapes, but you could also just tell the farmer and avoid touching. Mostly though you just collect the eggs. 😉

  7. Pingback: Thoughts of a Wannabe Farmer – Four Years Later | I Wanna Farm

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